The Moon Cyclists



photophoto Riding my road bike the other day, I was feeling pretty good for the unusually hot temperature. The hills coming up out of Sewickley didn’t feel so bad and it seemed like now at the end of the riding season, I was in fairly good shape for the shape I am in. Until…..a guy who could not have weighed more than 130# soaking wet came flying by me in a rather official looking pro team kit and shaved legs gleaming in the sun. I knew he was serious as he gave me the obligatory wave with the right finger and as I tried to hang on to his wheel, I said,” where did the 30 years go all of a sudden.” My “in-shapeness” was relative now to my age group and certainly not in the age group of the guy who just smoked me on the hill. As I drifted off the back, I kind of went into a daydream mode which you can do on a road bike and just pedaled and thought about the old days. Look above to see the leather hairnet head protection that we wore and the wool jersies. We were official looking as we tried to mimic the Euro Peleton. When I look at that picture today I say to myself,” how would that leather hairnet protect anything?” With age comes wisdom and the need to look cool and official wanes. However, the enthusiasm for the sport was genuine and no group of people embodied it more than a group from Moon Township, Pennsylvania aptly named “The Moon Cyclists”

Our group of North Parkers were quickly adopted into their group after we all met in the ACA Time Trials and Races. Jody and Gary Gillis, Mike and Judy Mihok, Gary Bywaters, all took George and Debbie, Art Bon, the Habays and me into their fold. The unifying thing among us was not just the love of the sport of road racing, but the social aspect of having a beverage or two after a group ride or race was over. In the winter, we used to use the Ambridge Bike Shop facility in Coraopolis,Pa as a roller riding venue a couple of days a week in the winter to keep our cycling spirits alive. Rollers are cylindrical indoor training devices that move under the front and back weel and tend to improve balance and riding in a straight line. Sometimes the staight line was compromised as one’s attention slipped and the hapless rider would crash inside or ride into the wall much to the amusement of the fellow riders. We followed this up with spaghetti and beer at Segneri’s Restaurant as we laughed about how we “schvettted up the floor of the shop and fogged all the windows”, all the time making fun of each other. It became a tight group and we all looked the part of the serious racers thanks to the talents of Kathy Schnaubelt who made high quality cycling clothing at the time and still does today. Gary Gillis used to call her shop the “schvette shop ” with all the old ladies sewing away on the Singer sewing machines in very hot and humid conditions. But they seemed happy and our cycling kits had a big crescent moon on them and we took pride in wearing all of our Moon Cyclists gear. I wish I had some of that stuff left but it was indeed a long time ago and the “schvette” definitely destroyed the fabric over time.

Many rides and post ride parties were enjoyed over the years and it is amazing how good friendships developed. Peer activites and sports can bond relationships that can last a lifetime. Mike Mihok is an ER doc and I credit him with actually saving my life when I ended up in his ER with stabbing pains in my back. Mike instantly knew my previous history of having a DVT in my leg and recognized the signs of a pulmanory embolysim. He immediately admitted me and had a series of tests done to confirm the malady and had it not been for the quick action of Mike and his team, I might not be writing this blog. He was a good friend.

Sad to say, sometimes you don’t keep up with some friendships and they drift away without you really knowing it until the years pass. You have great memories and even though we have the excuse of kids, the job and aging parents and in-laws, the fact remains that to have a friend is to be a friend. I had too many great times with the Moon Cyclists to let that drift away and now I am in the mindset of trying to rekindle the relationships by what else? Putting together a group ride. I am going to do it and we will again tell the stories that we all like to tell like how we took Greg LeMond’s picture at the World Cycling Championships as he exited the port a john. We all were there to ride in Colorado and take in the race at the Air Force Academy. We were such fans then that in true paparazzi fashion, we could not wait to take pictures of the Tour Champion wherever and whenever we could. The poor guy couldn’t even hit the can without the Moon Cyclists all stalking him. Hilarious then and hilarious today. We can talk about how Gary would crave chocolate after a ride, eat it feverishly and then sink into a chocolate coma and become almost incoherent. Gary Bywaters instituted team time trials at the time and we all rode with each other in different combinations a lot of the time and laughed about how we performed or didn’t perform. How Larry Lynch yelled at us after his pull because our miles per hour slowed down after he killed us with each pull. We had several recovery beers after those time trials. Lots of good times -leather hair nets and all!!

As I watched the young guy with the shiny shaved legs drift away from me, I savored those old days in my mind and as we all have entered or will soon be entering the “empty nesters” league, we need to rekindle the fire of those old days. Not as fast, not in races, but definitely in fun and laughter. Make sure you keep in touch with all of your friends if you can. It is so important and it is never, ever too late to rekindle the “schvette together.” Thanks for reading.

WE ARE!!!!!!!

photophotophotoPurple Lizard Mapsphotoband_TIPS Well maybe not me, but this is the cheer of my wife’s alma mater, Penn State University. If you look it up on You Tube under “Origins of We are Penn State Cheer”, you will see a heart warming story. On any home game, you will hear one side of the stadium cheer, “We Are” and the other side cheer ” Penn State.” Now for a guy who went to a small little school up in Northwest Pa, this brings chills to the spine. It is inspiring and is the mantra for all of those like my wife and her wonderful friends who all went to school together at a fabulous university in a fabulous little town -State College,Pa. Happy Valley.

I would like to speak in this post of the idea of friendship which is embodied in the relationship that has developed over 30 years with my wife Janet and her PSU friends. Let’s start with Mark and Kathy Ritchey who so generously open their home to all of us during the annual rite of the fall-Homecoming weekend. We kill their house but the smiles and the hospitality of the Ritcheys is unmatched. They are generous to a fault and their home is our home. Their daughter Megan plays for the Women’s Soccer Team and Kathy and Mark are like second parents to all of those girls and coaches.

A big motor home rolls in for every home game and especially on Homecoming weekend. It is driven by a little spitfire of a gal named Judy Smith who was a cheerleader for the Lions back in the day. She and her husband Mike drive into the Valley and bring the most amazing food for the tailgates. Nothing beats Judy’s Yum Yum bars and her exquisite turkey served with home made cole slaw on fresh challah rolls. Mike Smith is one of three non-PSU persons like myself and fortunatly for me,he is a mountain biker. For the last 25 years, we have ridden together before the game up on the great trails of the Rothrock State Forest. Our route can be found on the Purple Lizard Maps available at all the bike shops in town. We hit the Longberger Path to the John Wert Path( a rocky hell of a trail), up Heckendorn Gap via Treaster Kettle Road, and then rocketing back down the Longberger to the finish. We have ridden a lot of the trails over the last number of years in all kinds of weather. I will never forget Doc Smith sliding on the ice over this wooden bridge right near the start of the ride. A tough start for Michael but he is a tough guy and the rest of the ride was uneventful and enjoyable. Mike is our medical guy. With all the pub crawling and the scavenger hunts designed by the diabolical Kathy Ritchey, we need a medical man on staff.

Valerie and Bob Reading are another wonderful couple and Val was one of the original(roomies). Bob is an amazing athlete. Mike and I took him for one of his first mountain bike rides and his road riding prowess showed up hard in the climb up the Gap on Treaster Kettle. He left the mountain bike guys in the dust on the climb and Mike and I looked at each other in wonder. Bob still looks like he could play college football. Valerie is one of the friendliest persons I have ever met and her culinary skills along with her sister Diane and her husband Billy, make the tailgate the envy of the alumni crowd. These three can cook up a storm along with Judy’s grub and my wife Janet’s “to die for” chile. Beth O’Donnell another roomie from the day, also prepares a feast for the tailgate and her husband Mike, a former PSU player, enjoys the feast with all of us. Mike is a friendly, capable financial guy who is a dedicated volunteer and generous supporter of all that is Penn State.

Then there is the incomparable Mike Procopio. Copes is a labor attorney from the West Coast via Sharpsburg, Pa and PSU. When he applied to Law School, he looked up the next school in the “P” section of the college manual and found Pepperdine. He was accepted and the next thing you know, Mike is looking at the bikini clad co-eds on the beach from the library window. He is a capable guy and the group has no better friend than Copers. He would give you the shirt off his back and then some. Mike Dunlay(aka the Dunz) is the ringleader of this group. A successful restauranteur from Chicago, he is shown above holding Joe Paterno on his shoulders in the famous Sports Illustrtated cover commemorating the teams National Championship. Dunz is also the guy that I refer to in my earlier ski post on “Characters.” Dunz was the guy I took to Killington to ski with my friend Eric and his national class ski racing son, Travis. Dunz shows up in wrap around Clint Eastwood sunglasses and Cincinnati Bengals billowing cotton pants. We all skied fast that day as usual and the Dunz rocketed down the trails of Killington hollering and laughing all the way down much to the amusement of my friend and his son. People kept asking me if he was an NFL player and I said politely “No- that is ……..the Dunz” He is another guy who would take a bullet for the girls. Another generous guy to a fault who would do anything for his Penn State crowd.

Now you might ask yourself, why am I spending such detail on this group? I am trying to portray the archtypal description of friendship embodied here. As an outsider, I have had the opportunity to observe this crowd for a long time and they are truly a tight group. They have been friends for over 30 years and make the effort to see each other not only at Homecoming but at other times of the year, all over the country. They make the time for each other. They call each other. They value their friendships. I am pleased that they consider me a friend as well and they have always welcomed me into the their midst as an honorary Lion. Pretty nice for a guy who didn’t really make the most of his college experience. Janet is a good friend to all of them. My mother used to say that to have a friend is to be a friend. I see Jan calling her friends from PSU, getting together with them, laughing with them, crying with them, and it is really heartwarming to see how much she enjoys her friends for all these many years. So as inspiring as this is to me, it should be to you as well. Cherish your friends. Make plans and take the time to get together with them. We are getting older. Our kids are growing and will soon have their own path and friends in life. But I expect this group to be rock solid for many years to come. I want to tag along and when the crowd screams,” WE ARE” I will shout back ……”Penn State.” Thanks for reading.

The Saturday Morning Group

photophotophoto One of the more interesting habits of active people is the yearning to get together on a weekly basis to do something that we all are passionate about. Whether you have your regularly scheduled foursome on the golf course, your doubles outings in tennis, or your fishing or shooting events, there is a need to have comraderie with your friends on a weekly basis. It takes a lot of work to schedule these outings with games, practices, family or work issues, but if you have the will to do it, you can find a way to schedule your fun with your friends. Take my groups above. My Saturday morning ski group is a prime example of guys who love to ski and get together. Some of these guys I have skied with for over 40 years and others come and go. But the core group can’t wait to get together and the E-Mails start flying around Wednesdays to make sure everyone is coming and to see who is out of town on a great ski trip. The other group above is my Saturday morning Mountain Bike group which also varies in participants but JR Ellis, Pete Hilton, Don Cunningham, and me are the core members who welcome everyone to join us. We lost Ralph Phillips to a move to North Carolina, but he is with us in spirit and we will ride with him in the near future. We get visitors from out of town, guys that come on occasion, and guys whom we meet on the trails who want to join a group of jokers who have fun and tell each other how good we were. Great times on Saturday mornings.

One good thing about scheduling the weekly Saturday outings is the accountability factor. Now each of these groups have participants who are real enthusiasts and can easily ski or ride by themselves. I, for one, like to ski by myself and ride by myself. But I know the value of participating with a group for more than just the comraderie while partipating in a mutually loved activity. You can learn a lot about your friends by spending time with them and make new friends in the same fashion. The participants in my groups need no motivation to get up and run, ride, or ski. It is part of their fabric and they have participated in these activities for so long that they really don’t need the accountability to make them show up. However, if you are a new person to a sport or you have been out of the sport for a while, you might benefit from joining a group that enjoys what you do or are interested in doing, and will hold you accountable if you don’t show. The group will bust you if you fail to make the outing and sometimes this is what a person needs to jump start their activity. Running groups are great for this and cycling groups promote this type of acountability as well. As Jack McArdle has said before, our North Park is the only place you have to apologize for running 5 miles. But if you are willing to schedule yourself and be accountable to a group, you will become better at the sport because you will benefit from the experience of some of those who are in that particular group. I have skied for over 50 years and I still learn something every year and a lot of it comes from skiing with my Saturday morning guys. We talk skiing, eat skiing, breathe, skiing and you can learn a lot just by listening and participating. Same thing with my riding group. We talk equipment, what works, what does not work, fitness, diet, new trails, and everything associated with the great activity of mountain biking. Young guys like to join us mostly because they like to hear the stories about the old days and in some instances, some of us old warhorses can still hang with the younger set which they find appealing. I believe it gives them some motivtion in that a lot of us are as old or older than their dads and are out skiing at warp speed, or riding with a high level of fitness over some demanding trails.

Whether you want to take up golf, tennis, skiing, cycling or running,or whatever, there are clubs and groups of individuals who participate on a regular basis that would be happy to take you under their wing and show you the ropes just like someone did for them. We do it all the time with our ski group and also with our mountain bike group. You can develop some amazing friends over the years if you choose to have a Saturday morning group. Our friend Craig Morris from the ski group could not be more of a loyal friend. My mother always said that to have a friend is to be a friend. You have to make an effort and Craig has done that for our group for a long, long time. We have been friends for over 40 years. Craig makes the effort and is one of the core guys in the ski group. He makes an effort to travel and ski with the guys and values his friendships. He would be an example of my mother’s axiom. The same can be said for my riding group. So………..lesson here is to take up an activity or join others who participate in an activity and try to have a Saturday morning group. They will make you laugh, hold you accountable on many fronts, and be there for you when you need them the most. They get to know you and the activity only solidifies what is important……friendship, and comraderie. Thanks for reading.

Friends Can Help Weather the Storm

IMG00060-20091104-1655photo The picture you see above is of me on the right and my friend Richard Nicolette on the left at Mt. Evans just outside of Denver on the Front Range. Richard is my oldest friend. In fact, he was the first human being that I knew outside my mother and dad when I was a kid. We grew up in the neighborhood together and now he lives in Arvada, Colorado. Richard and I skied together as kids and he has been living back and forth in Colorado/Pittsburgh three separate times and now lives in Colorado permanently. He was the first guy I ever saw do a back flip on skis. In those days, these were done on 210 cm skis. A pretty impressive feat. One day Richard called me from Aspen where he was working at the Mesa Store Bakery and told me that he laid out a back gainer for Boz Skaags. I thought that was pretty cool and we had many ski adventures in the last 50 years together.

Recently in the last several years, my travels have taken me to Denver for various reasons and Richard and I always get together. In these recent times, we have hiked together because I found myself in Denver during non-ski seasons of the year. But that is ok because we have been able to catch up while hiking and while we have had fun, we have endured some amazing weather. For instance, several years ago we were hiking up the James Peak Lake Trail in the Roosevelt National Forest not far from Boulder. In Colorado, you need to make sure that you get your hike started before noon and make your way back as soon as you can because there are always wicked thunder storms in the afternoons in the mountains. We made the mistake of staying too long at Chipotle in Arvada, our favorite haunt( how about that Chris, Adam and Loraine). We started the hike in the early afternoon and by late afternoon we were still up high at the lake when a really big thunderstorm was brewing. The clouds were black and the lightning was right on us. When you are high in the mountains, the lightning is all around you and it can be pretty un-nerving. We had our rain gear with us and quickly donned it before the biblical rains began. We nervously laughed at each crack of thunder and lightning until we started to run towards the parking area. Not a good time when the storms begin. At the end of that hike, we went immediately to the Sundance Cafe on Highway 119 near Nederland. After the storm, we sat on the deck and had an amazing view of the Front Range and talked incessantly about the harrowing experience on the mountain that day.

We went another day to the trail systems in Golden, Colorado where the weather was so hot, we were glad that our hydration packs were full of ice water and we had a spare bottle between us. Those trails are really well laid out and the city of Golden should be proud of their system which is within easy reach of the town. The trip to Mt. Evans on another hike in another year was momentous in that it suddenly turned very cold and the rain was intense and freezing. Richard and I never let the weather spoil our fun and fortunately we have the packs and the rain gear to protect us. You have to have the gear if you want to venture into the outdoors especially in the unpredictable Front Range of Colorado. Mt. Evans is 14,264 feet high and is one of the famous fourteeners in Colorado which locals like to summit during the summer months. However at that altitude, curiously not far from Denver, you have to be prepared. It can snow in mid summer and this particular picture was taken in August. You will notice I am wearing a wool hat. Many people have died from exposure because they go to this altitude without backup clothing and hypothermia is a real threat especially when you are stuck in a cold rain storm.

Richard and I always like to do adventurous things together. We have weathered many storms together hiking, skiing and riding road bikes. But we have also weathered some life storms as well. Richard was one of the first people to call me when my father suddenly passed away in his sleep 12 years ago. He was on the phone when my mother passed 4 years later. We talked for hours about the old neighorhood and stories about our parents and how they raised us back then. To this day, when we see each other, it is as if I just saw him yesterday and we pick up talking about the old days and current situations in each other’s lives. Richard likes to hear about my son Jack and my wife Janet. He doesn’t have any children but is engaged to a really cool lady named Linda who is truly his soulmate and I am happy for him. We E-Mail each other frequently and they tend to be contemplative about life in general. Richard has had to weather some storms. He has a degree from Rochester Institute of Technology and has been in the graphic arts business all of his life. Unfortunately, that industry has fallen on hard times because of the new technology of self publishing and the Internet. However, Richard has re-invented himself as a substitute teacher in the Denver and Boulder area and couldn’t be happier. He has a real passion for kids and his gentle spirit is welcome in all of those classrooms. I like to think that I have weathered some of his life storms with him that are just as hairy as that day on the James Peak Trail.

So, if you have a lifelong friend in the world, cultivate that relationhship. They say if you die with 5 real friends, you are truly a blessed person. Richard is one of those people in my life. We like our gear, we weather the storms on the mountain and in life together. If you have a friend like that, make an effort to see them at all costs. Life is short and friends are true treasures in life. Go hike and catch up with a friend. Thanks for reading.